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Murder in the children’s eyes, 50 years of healing

What happens when a 3-year-old watches as her mother is shot and killed by her father? Then, years later see her husband kill himself while he sits next to her. “I turned mean. I was evil. I would just as soon hurt you as look at you,” Ava Jones Burnett said.

What about brothers and sisters who also witnessed their mother’s violent, bloody death?

Burnett was speaking in an interview, telling why she wrote and published an account, not so much about the killing, but the effects on her and her brothers and sisters. The book, Murder in the Children’s Eyes, is available online.

With the killing now 50 years ago, “[The book] was long overdue… It was something I had to get out. Not just for me, but my siblings. We’re struggling, we’re still struggling through that. People still mistreat us, even though we’re adults,” Burnett said.

“I wanted people to know what we been through. We’re survivors. You might not like me, but you got to respect me, you got to respect us, through that … People know we stick together, now they’ll know why,” she said.

Burnett said, “It wasn’t all folks, lots of people treated us good. But the family? It was family that acted like we had something to do with it.

“What we did was we pulled together. We took care of ourselves,” Burnett said. While the ties between siblings helped, all were left trying to cope the best way they could.

Her “turnaround” came about 20 years ago when she became a Christian, Burnett said. “I think if that had not have happened, I’d be dead by now.

“I got to thinking about my family and all, and I wanted them to know I loved them, and that’s what I did. I told them that. And I hugged them. And I made them hug me back,” she said.

Burnett’s story begins with a one-paragraph account of the shooting. She then turns to the events that led up to her mother’s death and then what followed.

There was no counseling, Burnett said. “No one would even talk about it. We just had to deal with it the best we could.”

“I never cried about it. I cried a few years after my husband killed himself. But it wasn’t over him. It was about what might have been. I cried over that,” Burnett said.

But no one would speak to them about their mother, or were very guarded about what they would say, what they still will say, Burnett said. “We ask about our mother, they just, ‘She liked to have fun.’ Or, we have to say what we’ve found out, and then they just say, ‘uh-huh.’ I don’t know why they are like that.”

Efrem Jones, a Lonoke City alderman, said the book cleared some issues up for him.

“There is a lot I understand about what went on with me now,” he said.

He said he was about 1 year old when his mother was killed. “She was holding me when she was shot,” Jones said.

He said he has no conscious memory of the shooting, though physically he has small scars on the back of his head where he was struck by some of the shot.

“But I have this dream. It started when I was about 5. I’m being held by someone and then there’s this loud boom, and I wake up scared. Now I understand a lot,” he said.

Burnett said another of her brothers, who watched it happen, says he does not remember anything. “I guess he’s blocking it out, because he was there. He saw it,” she said.

She said her brothers and sisters did not take it seriously when she began talking about publishing the book, “They just thought it was just me being me.”

Jones said the book is a “healing thing” for him. “It opened up my eyes, and makes me understand more.”

Burnett said not all her brothers and sisters have read the book yet. “Not all them have read it, but the ones who have read it, it was long overdue.”

The book is available through, and

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